Olivia Stuller, actress-singer, grins as Hannah Eicholtz, right, enjoys picnic wine. The Henderson High School alums are performing in “Old Tricks,” part of the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival. Charles Holt is behind Stuller. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas – Hendersonville High School drama made impact on the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival this past weekend, starring in a play about actor’s intertwining personas on and off camera.
The Cardboard Sea performed “Old Tricks,” as part of a triple-header last Thursday and Friday before packed crowds in The Mothlight in West Asheville.
The troupe is in its fourth year of “transformative” theater. Its aims include to “produce works of social significance, highlight the constructed nature of the theatrical event, and provoke self-reflection and critical perspectives of onstage action.” The name is an off-shoot of a dreamy “paper moon.”
The Cardboard Sea blends efforts of recent HHS alumni with actors who co-founder Todd Weakley knows from Asheville and beyond. He is the sole HHS drama teacher, serving in that role for 16 years.
Weakley is the group’s resident director, and often pitches in with bit roles. Jeff Donnelly, the troupe’s other co-founder, earlier collaborated with Weakley in the now-defunct Redundant Theatre Co. that Weakley helped launch in Asheville in ‘94. It did one play in the lobby of an old hotel.
Award-winning playwright Donnelly wrote “Old Tricks” with a “whimsical and provocative look at the magical connection between character and actor, between imaginative fiction and inhabited experience.”
The new mini-play was performed in about 20 minutes. “To tell the story,” Weakley said, “you don’t necessarily have to do it in a full-length play.” He praised Fringe for giving exposure to rising artists and unusual productions. “A 20-minute play does matter. Fringe allows that to happen.”
“Old Tricks” was among five entries in the Fringe award category for works that “pushed the boundaries of storytelling.” Donnelly’s plot revolves around the sudden departure of the star of television series “Old Tricks,” due to sex scandals — just as months ago Kevin Spacey was booted out of the hit show “House of Cards” and doomed its future. Spacey was implicated as a sexual predator by many then-teenage rising actors. There is a hint of molestation by the “Old Tricks” star, with a comment wondering about “the children.”
The disgraced and departed actor portrayed the magician character Magical Marine, who was backed by a wild female rock house band.
HHS alum Hannah Eicholtz is a guitar goddess, at Fringe. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The cast has two HHS alums. One, Hannah Eicholtz (Class of 2011), was the slick guitarist with guitar perpetually in hand. The other, Olivia Stuller (Class of 2009), was the singer and gentlest-natured one.
Kristi DeVille was the sassy drummer. Drums were in back. The band often lined up, along the stage front. DeVille is a Warren Wilson College instructor, and Montford Park Players’ resident choreographer.
Charles Holt played off of the ladies as the vain, flirtatious cook. Taylor Holenbeck played the stage manager. A sequence of periodic sound bites was announced, into fragmented show taping.
Kirstin Daniel portrayed the series’ lead script writer. She wants to carry on without the star — for at least one final episode. The actors try to do that. But they slide in and out of various stages of disillusionment and despair. The actors eventually abandon the ship. They have a picnic, and in the end swig wine to get their minds off of the fate of the show and their acting futures.
Though their unit gets fractured, they unite in realizing the show is done. Thus they are “pulling apart — (yet doing so) together,” Weakley explained.
There actually was a TV series “Old Tricks” in 2005-17, but that was a detective drama on British TV.
The two HHS alumni are active in the troupe. Eicholtz acted in Fringe two years ago under Weakley’s direction, co-starring with Lauren Williams (HHS ’08) in the intense two-woman mini-drama “This is Now/This is How.” They co-wrote it with director Weakley, blending elements of several real-life relationships.
There was a sharp role reversal, in close friends’ struggle. Eicholtz evolves from clinging to assertive and powerful, by breaking the friendship.
Last July, she starred as the title character in Donnelly’s play “Has Anyone Seen Ms. Ray?,” as the teacher who defies the new werewolf-vicious headmaster and solves a murder.
Earlier, she acted in The Cardboard Sea’s debut production, of Donnelly’s one-act dark comedy “If You Must” in mid-2015 in Asheville. It was about how “personal histories define and destroy us.”
Stuller’s “Old Tricks” character is “sweeter” than the others, and comes out of her shell to “speak up” to the others, Weakley noted.
Stuller said that rather than get distracted in her focus from the crowd so close to the small stage, “I appreciate the audience” response. “We get into it even more.” Stuller has helped The Cardboard Sea behind the scenes and on stage.
The troupe’s Fringe play a year ago was “Mine and Yours,” about tension in a rock band.
Weakley said that Fringe in its decade and a half has been “gaining traction” locally and beyond.
HHS principal Bobby Wilkins has said how Weakley is “fabulous with his students, and they love him.” Their accolades include the statewide chief drama award for “Helpless Doorknobs” in 2004-05. His 17 advanced theater class students wrote the four-act play, about troubled people searching for truths.
Each scene’s costumes were in a different color — Regret (brown), Abandonment (black and white), Betrayal (red), then “Love Unrequited (green). The cast performed the 45-minute play in the Diana Wortham Theatre in ’05 as part of the Stoneleaf theatrical festival that used to go on in Asheville.